This Pride Week, as citizens of Cincinnati wave their rainbow flags up high, we show support not only for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community but for our city as a whole and its progress toward acceptance of all individuals. For years, Over-the-Rhine club Below Zero Lounge has been at the forefront of expunging the mark of labels that define people by their sexual orientation and gender identity.
When Below Zero first opened its doors in June 2007, owner Nigel Cotterill initially didn’t market the establishment as a “gay” bar but rather a bar for “open-minded people.”
“The vision was to have a bar where all people could mix together,” Cotterill says. “We welcome everyone and never wanted to label it — we knew the customers would create the atmosphere and label it themselves.”
Sitting comfortably at the corner of Walnut and 12th Street, Below Zero actually is two venues packaged into one location. The first floor lounge area is great for stopping by for a drink during slow or busy hours, and the upstairs, premiere show bar, the Cabaret, hosts various weekly events and drag shows.
Cotterill knew he wanted to open a bar downtown in the arts and entertainment district where it would receive support from the arts and LGBT community, but the mission has always been to keep it open to anyone and everyone.
It wasn’t until the recent redevelopment work in Over-the-Rhine that Below Zero started to expand its business.
Thanks to the ongoing revitalization of the neighborhood, the increased number of residents, businesses and restaurants has helped Below Zero in the past two years evolve from an isolated destination bar (then only open four days a week) to a now-thriving seven-days-a-week hotspot, with daily specials, weekly events, drag shows, live entertainment and availability for private parties, fundraisers, corporate retreats and off-site meetings.
Features of the first floor include plush lounge couches, a video juke box that streams on their large screen TVs, a full bar with premium liquors, draft beers and more than 100 different types of vodkas. Their trademark drink includes featured vodkas served below freezing temperatures that are perfectly chilled and dispensed at 6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Up one flight of stairs guests will find the swanky Cabaret, furnished with crystal chandeliers, an intimate 100-seat theatre and full martini bar. Thursday through Sunday nights, the stage is taken over by the resident all-star cast of drag queens, including Rupaul’s Drag Race Season 5 contestant Penny Tration. The divas of the popular drag shows have been entertaining audiences for three years with big laughs, fierce outfits and larger-than-life personalities.
The Cabaret also houses the popular sketch comedy skit Bye Bye Liver. Every Saturday night at 8 p.m. an independent group of actors mix together a theatrical performance about the follies of drinking, served with interactive games and crazy characters. The show changes every week so repeated audience members are guaranteed to never see the same show twice.
After moving to Cincinnati from his hometown of Hereford, England 25 years ago, Cotterill noticed a trend among the people of our city and the lack of pride we have from being in our own area.
“Cincinnati’s worst enemy is its own citizens,” Cotterill says. “People always apologize when they say ‘I’m from Cincinnati,’ when we should toot our own horn more often. Cincinnati is a great place to live as long as we keep moving forward.”
On Wednesday, May 28 at 7 p.m., Below Zero Lounge will host Pride Movie Night, featuring the Tristate debut of Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine presented by the CNKY Film Festival. The event will include free admission and free hot popcorn. Below Zero will also be a participating bar and shuttle stop on Pride Week’s Skyy Vodka Pub Crawl on Friday. Then on Saturday, Below Zero, the Cabaret and the cast of Bye Bye Liver will represent in the colorful Pride Parade as it marches through the streets of downtown.
After the Parade, the bar will open for its Annual Absolut Pink Party. Below Zero will transform into a pink wonderland with guests encouraged to arrive pretty in pink. The celebration will include drink specials, giveaways and DJ Jule Boogie at 11 p.m. to host the evening.
Cotterill plans to continue being open to new adventures within Below Zero’s walls, to continue the mission of catering to everyone and to find unity in diversity.
“Below Zero is a place where everyone can mix despite their differences and no one bats an eyelid,” Cotterill says. ©